Satellite TV - High Definition Satellite TV
Updated: March 19, 2016

Guide to
High Definition Satellite TV

The IDEAL Complement to Your Home Theater System

Ever since the first HDTV sets appeared on store shelves, high definition satellite television has been marketed as capable of delivering life-like imagery and sound that renders your TV viewing experience as the next best thing to being there!

Surely, satellite HD television is capable of great image and sound but...

What is exactly high definition satellite TV, and to what extent it is capable of delivering a great picture and immersive sound? What is this issue of a down-rezzed HDTV? What do you need to watch Satellite HD programming?

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What is High Definition Satellite TV?

The simple answer is... satellite television in high definition! In other words, the difference between standard and high definition satellite television is not intrinsic to the satellite transmission medium. Rather, it is the drastic increase in picture resolution brought by HDTV over standard television that leads to the superb picture supported by digital satellite HDTV.

It is not the scope of this article to go into the details of HDTV; for this, we suggest referring to our HDTV Guide; there we discuss the different HD formats; we also explain how these formats are affected by bandwidth constraints in TV broadcast systems, and how this leads to a lower resolution HDTV. However, it is enough to mention that HDTV supports a picture resolution of 1280 pixels by 720 lines in 720p, and 1920 pixels by 1080 lines in 1080i/1080p. This contrasts with the 330 horizontal lines supported by standard analog TV, and the 480 lines by 852 pixels supported by DVD-video and enhanced digital TV.

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This implies that like terrestrial HDTV broadcast, high definition satellite TV delivers a theoretical picture resolution that is up to 6.75 times that of standard digital television when using 1080i or 1080p HDTV even though 1080p HDTV broadcast is practically non-existent; only DirecTV and Dish Network offer a few 1080p pay per view services.

We say 'theoretical' as in actual fact, high definition satellite TV service providers often reduce the horizontal resolution of a 1080i broadcast content to 1280 pixels; they mainly do so to limit the bandwidth requirements so they can send more channels. This is often referred to as 'down-rezzed' HDTV.

What... a lower resolution HDTV?

Yes, what you get from high definition satellite TV broadcasts is a lower resolution HDTV picture; but wait!

This is somewhat similar to what terrestrial over-the-air TV stations do when broadcasting 1080i content; these limit the horizontal resolution to 1440 pixels. This reduced broadcast content resolution allows them to deliver more content over the same allocated bandwidth space into people's homes. However, limiting the picture resolution also helps reduce the visibility of interlaced artifacts associated with the 1080i HDTV format.

Still, this yields an image resolution that is almost five times that supported by standard digital television. True that down-resolution HDTV content does not look as sharp and clear as full resolution HD, but these images still look great and much better than that possible with standard-definition TV systems.

The impact in image detail resulting from this higher picture resolution afforded by high definition systems―even with down-resolution HDTV―is significant and becomes more visible as one moves towards the big screens of today's home theater systems. At anything larger than and including 55-inch screen sizes, the difference becomes striking. You see, HDTV was made for the big screen! In fact, you would hardly notice any difference in picture detail between standard and high definition content with the smaller 32 and 26-inch TVs.

Another issue associated with all HDTV programming irrespective of whether this is carried over satellite, digital terrestrial, or cable TV, is that high definition content is transmitted using an aspect ratio (the ratio of the screen width versus height) of 16:9. This is in effect closer to the film original aspect ratio while at the same time, provides a much wider viewing area that is closer to the human field of view.

And as with digital terrestrial over-the-air and cable TV, high definition satellite TV comes with Dolby® Digital 5.1 surround sound for a more immersive viewing experience; this better complements the super picture supported by HDTV broadcast content.

This renders high definition television―irrespective of the transmission medium itself―as the best choice to complement one's home theater system.

So... what is so remarkable about today's digital High Definition Satellite TV?

It is clear that the issue is more than just image quality because as we have just seen, both high definition satellite TV and terrestrial high definition TV support the same image detail and sound quality. However...

There is one important difference in favor of high definition satellite TV over both over-the-air and cable TV terrestrial HD television; this is the vast selection of content available in HD over digital satellite. Suffice to note that at the time of this write-up, both DirecTV and Dish Network channel line-ups include more than 200 channels in HD if you include pay-per-view channels. In addition, viewers in large cities would often be able to get most of their local HD channels over satellite.

The numerous channels available in HD over satellite with so much diverse content render high definition satellite TV as the best choice to complement one's home entertainment system. This is possible thanks to the way satellite TV service providers operate as 'content aggregators'.

In this respect, digital satellite television is proving to be the ideal and most effective transmission medium to deliver HD content to the home.

Receiving High Definition Satellite TV: What do you need to watch satellite HDTV?

You need more than just a high-definition TV set to be able to receive HDTV programs over satellite TV. More specifically, you also require an HDTV-enabled satellite receiver, the appropriate satellite dish, and a subscription to an HD satellite TV program bundle.

If you are upgrading your digital satellite service to receive HDTV, you may need to install either a second dish or replace your present satellite dish/receiver setup with one that is MPEG-4 compatible.

For more information on the required satellite dish antennas and satellite TV decoders for high definition satellite TV reception, please refer to the respective guides appearing under this same section:

Satellite Dish Installation: Choosing, installing and fine-tuning a satellite TV antenna

Choosing Your Satellite Decoder: Features to look for when selecting your satellite receiver

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this article:

Blue bullet  What is High Definition Satellite TV? Explaining a few basics

Blue bullet  Down-rezzed HDTV: What is this issue of a lower resolution HDTV when it comes to satellite HDTV?

Blue bullet  Receiving Satellite HDTV: What do you need to watch satellite HD programming

 Satellite TV Guides

Articles appearing under this section:

Satellite Television Basics

Satellite Dish Installation

Choosing Your Satellite TV Decoder

Satellite or Cable TV?

Glossary of Satellite TV Terms

'FREE' Satellite Television Offers: Where is the catch?

Dish Network vs. DirecTV: Which is better?

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